Pulping as a Recycling Alternative to Shredding: Paper Made Me Sick

I had a fairly large quantity of paper with personal information on it, and wanted to dispose of it. Initially, it was shredded, but that was taking too long, so I decided to try and pulp it.

I put it into a bucket of water. A few days later, it was still sheets of paper, but I could tear it up.  A couple days after that, it had started to pulp, so I formed them into balls for drying.

Since this first try seemed to work, I found another batch of papers, and put them into the bucket.  After three days, the paper was soaked, and I could start tearing it up. This time, the water smelled like rust.

I assumed that some paper clips had rusted.  But, after an hour of breathing this stuff in, and then sitting at the computer a bit, I started to feel sick. Nothing severe, but a bit of a nauseated feeling.

So I looked up what I thought might be the issue: dioxin poisoning. I knew white paper contained it.  Well, it didn’t seem to be dioxin, but some articles said that some paper products contain formaldehyde.

The smell of formaldehyde is like pickles. That’s what this water smelled like. Formaldehyde is used in carbonless NCR forms.  I had some of those in there. It’s also used to “toughen up” papers, and there were some tough sheets in there that didn’t disintegrate easily.

Not only that, but the symptoms of formaldehyde poisoning are irritation. Yes, I did feel some irritation in my eyes.  I treated it by washing my hands and arms, which had contacted the smelly water.

So, conclusion: pulping can work as an alternative to shredding, but do not pulp anything but plain white paper, and toss the carbonless forms into the shredder.

Statistics: A Guide to the Unknown, 3rd Ed., by Tanur et. al.

Summary in progress. (sale on ebay)

A Guide to the Unknown collects articles written for a general audience to explain how statistics were used in research, to improve understanding.

The book was developed to promote the use of statistics in medical research, social science research, the humanities, and other non-mathematical fields. So, it’s pretty easy to read. There’s some math, but it’s couched in narrative.

The title, “A Guide to the Unknown” describes how stats are used: to help evaluate the quality of our understanding. What is known, and not known? What may happen, and what isn’t likely? Each essay presents a narrative, and then describes how statistics were used to improve understanding.

Each essay is listed below, and summarized.


The Biggest Public Health Experiment Ever: The 1954 Field Trial of the Salk Poliomyelitis Vaccine, by Paul Meier


Book Report: the life-changing magic of tidying up by marie kondo

The life-changing magic of tidying up, by marie kondo, is the latest is a slow stream of decluttering and hoarding recovery books, and probably the most successful one so far.

You can pick it up used for around $8 on ebay (buy my copy here).  The general method described is to discard everything, except the things that give you joy. The tactics are rigid, but that may work for many people.

Objects are classified into categories: clothes, books, papers, objects, and sentimental objects. There are also subcategories, which is detailed in the book. All the objects of a category are gathered, and placed in a pile on the floor, and then each is held. If it brings you joy, you keep it.

Kondo goes into her philosophy, and I won’t get into it here, but by the middle of the book, you’ll know what “joy” means, and what it means for each category. It’s as much a literary device as a decision-making technique, because an torn pair of pants may give some people joy, but Kondo would disagree. Into the disposal pile it goes. No joy for me, but “joy” it is.

Each object that’s kept is then put into it’s place, and folded or arranged as prescribed by Kondo.  Again, she goes into detail about this.

Kondo’s focus on getting rid of things is the main genius of this book. Too many books and articles are about organizing your objects so they can be enjoyed. She advises that many of the objects should be eliminated.

In one short chapter, she dismisses “storage experts” as “hoarders”; she’s correct, because organizing storage enables hoarding, but neatly.

Throughout the book, there’s a strong leaning on intuition, rather than numbers. You keep things that make you feel joy.  You stop disposing when you feel you’ve reached the right amount. What’s clever is that the process of working through the book is supposed to help you develop this intuition.  It’s intuition grounded in practice, and the practice is the process; Kondo claims that this is a once-in-a-lifetime process, where you dispose of many things once, and then, after that, you’ll be clutter free.

Maybe it’ll work for you.


  • Kondo assumes you can afford to toss everything, and buy things as needed again. If you don’t have much money, this may not be an option.
  • Japanese homes generally have clean floors because they either walk barefoot inside, or sit on the floor. Americans should probably dump the objects on a table.
  • I think this method would fail for hoarders, because one of the characteristics of hoarders is a difficulty categorizing objects, and getting “joy” from hoarded objects.
  • Some people point out that there’s a lot of Shinto going on here.  It made me think of this song:

Erasing Racism with Revisionist History about Ichimatsu Dolls

I stumbled across and ad for an old Japanese doll, and wanted to get an idea of what’s out there, so I went to eBay and found out. On there, I saw listings for “Ichimatsu” dolls, which I’d never heard of before.

A little research turned up some info, but the most interesting story was bout a set of dolls that traveled from Japan to the US, to be shown in exhibitions, as a gesture of international friendship. The effort was spearheaded by Dr. Sidney L. Gulick, a Japanophile, who wanted to counteract a lot of the racial and international tension between the two countries.

One doll site related it plainly:

These are Ichimatsu dolls have their origins in the attempt by the Reverend Sidney L. Gulick to amend bad feelings in Japan created by the Exclusion Act of 1924, which denied immigration and citizenship rights to persons of Chinese and Japanese descent. Gulick, who knew Francis Hutchins, hit on the idea of sending “blue-eyed dolls” as ambassadors of friendship. He managed to have 12,379 sent to Japan by 1927.

Doris Ullman Galleries

However, some of these doll-interest websites were relaying an history sanitized of conflict and racism:

The exchange of dolls began when, few years after the great Kanto earthquake of 1923 in Japan, American children sent 12,000 blue-eyed dolls to Japanese children. After that, the 58 highly ornate, beautifully crafted Japanese “Friendship Dolls” were sent by Japanese children to America. Many childrens wrote letters to be sent along with the dolls. These dolls toured all over America and were later distributed among museums and libraries all over the country.


The actual story is even more complex than what the Ullman gallery told.

Gulick had lived in Japan for 25 years, as a missionary and educator, and had come to understand the culture. The doll project was a culturally specific effort to interpose American dolls into the context of the hina matsuri, or doll festival, which is celebrated in Japan on girl’s day. I don’t really understand the festival, except as a display of dolls replicating the Japanese royal family, in traditional dress. The use of dolls as ambassadors may have been effective because it specifically participated in an anti-modernist festival. It just made sense.

The project worked, and the American dolls were so popular that it led to the creation of similar Japanese dolls that were a hybrid of western style children’s dolls, and the preexisting Ichimatsu dolls. Japanese leaders created a set of dolls to tour the US.

At the same time, tensions were increasing between the countries, including the progression of exclusion of Japanese immigrants, and other international conflicts and rivalries would eventually lead to an attack on Pearl Harbor which pulled the US into WW2. Dr. Gulick died shortly after the end of WW2, so he really never got to see peace between the countries past the 1920s.

In looking back, however, the websites of most collectors of Ichimatsu dolls are focused on the goodwill efforts, and not the conditions that motivated Dr. Gulick’s goodwill efforts, nor on the populist spirit he embodied, in his belief that the positive feelings of regular people could form the basis for peace between countries in conflict.

Filing Stays Organized with Temporary Files (tmp.*, temp.*)

Most of the work you do on the computer is disposable. Having a copy of it around may seem useful, but can be detrimental to your larger goals to keep a simple filing system.

Consider using temporary files.  As you work on your document, or enter data, save it to a file named “tmp.txt” or “tmp.docx” or whatever, but with a consistent name.  I use “tmp”.

Some applications will use “Untitled” as the default name, and you can use that, as well.

Don’t bother to delete it.  Instead, the next time you need to use the temporary file, you name it the same, and replace the previous one.

If you need to delete all these files, just use the “file search” feature.

If you feel like you need to retain the document, just use the “Save As…” feature, to rename it.

Temp Files Save Filing Space and Mental Space

Your filing system will be littered with a dozen of these files, but it’s still only a dozen.  You will be passing hundreds of documents through these temporary files. It’s a big organizing victory!

How to Clean Gas Range Burner Grates

For each grate:

1 gallon zipper plastic bag

1/4 cup ammonia

Put the grate into the bag, and add ammonia.  Seal the bag and wait 12 hours.  Remove grate from the bag, and clean off grates with a sponge.

I read this here and here.  I can verify that it works.

Another way I tried to clean grates was with a soak in washing soda and hot water.  This worked somewhat, and helped reduce the grease, but the ammonia method above was cheaper and better.

Ammonia works on even the blackened, hardened fats. It didn’t clean mine entirely, but still did a visibly good job.